With its paramotor drones, Flying-Robots wants to facilitate deliveries in dangerous or difficult to access areas

With its paramotor drones, Flying-Robots wants to facilitate deliveries in dangerous or difficult to access areas

Flying-Robots conducted ground tests at Sauvian in February. The first flight is planned by the end of July. Flying-Robots

Fly like a boat. This is a curious reference for a flying drone, but it is at the heart of the Flying-Robots project. "We introduced the principle of foiling into the air", says Loïc Binard, the general director of the start-up, who is preparing, at the Hérault aerodrome of Sauvian, to make an unrivaled machine take flight, just as foils make racing boats take off.

Visually, it’s a paramotor, a motorized gondola, pot-bellied but equipped with a worked tail, 4.5 m, hanging under a sail resembling that of a ;rsquo;a paraglider. Technically, it is an innovation covered by several patents. "The idea, revisits Loïc Binard, came from shows, pyrotechnics in particular, carried out under parachutes, which the& ;rsquo;team wanted to drone and remote control. But she realized that the machine's capabilities were exceptional and that it could carry heavy loads ", offering potential in terms of ;rsquo;logistics industry.

Light, fast, powerful

Drones interest logisticians for a thousand reasons. Access to steep, forested areas devoid of road or airport infrastructure, the replacement of expensive helicopters or small planes for the delivery of heavy, medium and large packages, overcoming the problems of urban congestion, serving dangerous areas, to name a few. But, generally based on multi-rotor technology, they come up against a double difficulty : "They are complex and therefore expensive and heavy , deciphers the boss of Flying-Robots. If you are expensive, you have difficulty providing an economically acceptable solution; if you are heavy, your payload carrying capacity is reduced."

A sail, points out the engineer graduated from Estaca, is very light, related to a wing or rotors, and capable of supporting a “considerable weight. A 20 kg sail can carry 5 tons, a ratio unequaled in the air”. A real parachute, it also provides safety. On the other hand, a paramotor is quite slow, but “ours can very easily exceed 120 km/h, which is very acceptable for logistics”, thanks to the architecture imagined by the start-up. “The nacelle, with the engine, is articulated and behaves like an airplane under a flexible sail. That's what's unique” and what gives it unusual performances.

In the heart of Hérault

In the water, a foil will lift the boat (or hold it) by generating a very large force over a small area, reducing drag and allowing it to reach high speeds. In the air, the same principle applied to its nacelle by Flying-Robots reduces or increases lift, sometimes allowing cruising speeds unprecedented for a paramotor, sometimes a strong support at reduced speed, on takeoff and landing. The 4.5m version would thus be capable of carrying 180kg over 300km, the 7m version 350kg over the same distance "while consuming very little energy, insists Loïc Binard. And for a cost per kg/km two to three times less."

Born in the 2000s, accumulating 2 000 h of flight – a few copies were sold "which greatly interested the military" –, put on hold for lack of progressing to the industrial stage, the project Flying-Robots was relaunched and redesigned two years ago, entering into the fold of the Icare group, of Bertrand Vilmer. And it is Hérault which is today the nerve center.

The sail and nacelle were designed in Mons-la-Trivalle, the prototype manufactured by a subcontractor, MCJ Conception aéronautique, installed in the small village. Flight tests of the new version of the drone will begin in the coming weeks in Sauvian. With a pilot, first. "Then, we will replace his hands, his feet, his brain as the droneization progresses. We still have two years of work ahead of us, before proposing a commercial product, and financing to be completed.

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